Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is now closer to being solved after Malaysia announced Wednesday that a fragment found in Reunion in late June was part of the missing plane. The Boeing 777, which was travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March 2014, vanished from radar hours after take-off. The plane, which had 239 people on board, has been missing for 515 days.
At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that experts examining the debris in France had “conclusively confirmed” that it was from the aircraft. Investigators however have stopped short of confirming the link, stating only that it is highly likely. Late Wednesday, French prosecutor Serge Mackowiak disclosed that there were “very strong indications” that this was the case and that confirmation would only come after further tests have been carried out. The debris located on the remote French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean a week ago is a wing part known as a flaperon. It washed up on the beach more than 3,700 km (2,300 miles) away from the main search site. It is the first possible trace of the plane. Last week, the part was flown to a military laboratory in the French city of Toulouse, where experts have indicated that they will continue to carry out further tests on Thursday. On Thursday, Malaysia’s transport minister revealed that a Malaysian team in Reunion has collected more apparent plane debris, including a window and some aluminium foil. Liow Tiong Lai noted however that he could not confirm that the items belonged to MH370, stating that he “…can only ascertain that its plane debris.” Officials are also searching neighbouring areas, including Mauritius and Madagascar, to help comb their beaches for possible debris to widen the search.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has been co-ordinating the deep-sea hunt in the southern Indian Ocean, where the plane is believed to have gone down, thousands of miles from Reunion. On Wednesday, Australian prime minister Tony Abbot confirmed that the Australian-led search for the body of the plane would continue. The ATSB has since disclosed that it is possible that debris from the plane could have travelled that distance since the crash more than a year ago. In a statement, officials disclosed, “it is heartening that the discovery of the flaperon is consistent with our search area and we will continue to search this area thoroughly in the expectation we will find the missing aircraft.” Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss has stated that the investigating team is “continuing to finalize its considerations of the wreckage and we will await further detail from them.”
Over the past seventeen months, the search for MH370 has changed in scope a number of times, first beginning in the South China Sea. At its largest, the search operation covered 7.68 million sq km (2.96 sq miles) – a total of 2.24 million square nautical miles, effectively the equivalent of 11% of the Indian Ocean and 1.5% of the surface of the Earth. On 16 March, satellite images of possible debris, along with tracking data that was released by the Malaysian authorities, appeared to indicate that the plane crashed in the Indian Ocean, just south west of Australia. After searching an area of more than 2,000 km (1,240 miles) southwest of Perth, authorities later turned to searching more than 1,000 km (600 miles) further north. In April, the search zone was narrowed to an area of 850 sq km (328 sq miles) of the ocean floor to focus on acoustic signals that were detected by Australian teams. In June 2014, a new refined search area was announced, which shifted the focus to an area that covers 60,000 sq km and which is located 1,800 km (1,100 miles) off the west coast of Australia. Authorities have searched around 30% of the priority area, using specialized sonar technology and searching to depths of up to 6,000 m (19,685 ft).
After departing at 00:41, Saturday 8 March 2014 from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was due to arrive in Beijing at 06:30 (22:30 GMT). Malaysia Airlines has stated that the plane lost contact less than an hour after take-off and that no distress signal or message was sent. While the plane’s planned route would have taking it north-eastwards, over Cambodia and Vietnam, evidence from military radar later revealed that the plane had suddenly changed from its northerly course to head west. Further evidence, released on 15 March, suggested that the jet had been deliberately diverted by someone on board about an hour after take-off.